Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Are You As Excited About "Dr. Seuss Day" As I Am?

     Dr. Seuss was born on March 2, 1904.  This year, schools everywhere will celebrate his birthday all week and especially on Friday, March 1.  Since I just moved across country to my hometown, my cousin, a first-grade teacher, asked me to be a guest reader in her classroom.  Her students are dressing up as their favorite character that day, so I thought I would join the fun!  I am going to be sharing "Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!" because they have never read it in class and I love the book.  It was the book that Dr. Seuss was working on when he died.  Thanks to Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith, friends of Dr. Seuss, the book did not go unfinished.  Jack Prelutsky finished writing the book "Seuss-style" and Lane Smith created the illustrations.  When I was in the classroom, I always read it to my students the day before "state testing."  If you've ever read the book, you'd understand why.  It really communicates to students that they are prepared and know how to think; I think it helps students relax.
Since I'm reading the book, I thought I would dress as Miss Bonkers.  I found a dress at the local Goodwill store.  It is a little different from Miss Bonkers' dress, but it contains the same colors.  I also found a perfect red wig and a local beauty supply store.  I'll have to be certain to add pictures later.
What are you doing for Dr. Seuss Day?  Lindsay and I would love to hear your plans.

Have a Seuss-tastic Week!


Sunday, February 3, 2013

why i quit my teaching job mid year, too

I was reading another blog about this topic, and I was shocked at some of the hateful comments people left. Here was a teacher pouring out her heart over quitting and people were slamming her. Why? Because she wasn't superwoman.  If I could find that blog, I'd link to it so she knows she's not alone. Because...

I quit my teaching job mid-year, too.

I loved my school. I spent eight years at that middle school. They hired me straight out of college. Looking back on it now, I feel like my co-workers watched me grow up. They helped raise me. But, last year, I was like a rebellious teenager, ready to run away. I found my breaking point.

And  I broke.

 I always said that when I became a mean teacher, I would leave. And I was now a mean teacher. I was teaching an elective that the kids did not get to pick - Creative Writing. My classes were huge (35 and up) and I was also stuck in a windowless room, in the back of the school. For some reason, I landed a really challenging crop of kids. There was very little disciplinary support from the front office, and very few rules I was allowed to actually enforce with any authority. I was charged with making all my own curriculum but not given any direction, then I got slammed by admin for not being on pace with a non-existing learning schedule. I had one functioning computer for the students to use while the other elective in my grade level had a full production graphics design studio. Oh, did I mention the 35 thirteen year olds in the room? 

 I'm a good teacher. I know this. Perfect? No. Good? Yes. 

I love children. I love learning and I am constantly searching for new ways to reach my students. Also - I'm a great employee. I always do what I'm told, when I'm told. I constantly offer and give help to others. I practically made a career of scratching backs. I smiled and laughed when the other teachers called me a suck up or a do-gooder. So, I didn't think it was too unreasonable to expect people to do the same for me. Especially the people with the power. But all I heard from them was "NO".

During this time, I was serving as the yearbook adviser. I loved those kids. My yearbook kids were hard-working, sweet, and dependable. Additionally, I was working part-time for a virtual school as academic integrity support. These two second jobs were necessary because my salary was slashed 10% in the last three years of my employment with the county. When you're not making much to start, 10% hurts. It really hurts. 

So, when my virtual school offered me a full-time teaching job, at the same salary as all three of my jobs, and the opportunity to work from home, I was at once overjoyed and immediately conflicted. Would it get better next year? I didn't know, but honestly, I didn't want to know. If it was going to get better, I wasn't sure I wanted to be there anymore. I still didn't think I could do it. I didn't think I could go. Could I leave my kids? Could I leave my friends? Could I leave my school? 

Yes, I could. And I did. 

I agonized for weeks, but when the time came to make a decision, I went with the virtual school. I don't regret my decision, not for one minute. I had a matyr and a victim mentality at my old school, and I hated myself for it.

 I'm extremely supported at my new school. I get to work from home. AND... I'm still teaching. I get to spend one-on-one time with my students for however long they need me. My kids come from all walks of life - teen moms, hospital home bound, caring for sick parents, military families, and kids who just don't find the brick and mortar schools to be a good fit. Is is perfect? No. But was it the right decision for me? Yes. 

As teachers, we are here to serve the needs of others. You can't possibly do that if you're unhappy. You can probably skate by for awhile, but if you can't give 100%, then there's no way you'll get 100% back.

My students treated me like a princess during my last week, and their loving acts were not lost on me. It stung when my principal didn't really acknowledge my departure, in any official or private capacity. I chose to interpret his actions as a reaction to being hurt, and not really meant to hurt me. It was disappointing, but thankfully, my co-workers cheered me off into my new job and showered me with hugs.

 I did what was the right thing for me, and I know it was best for my students. They didn't need another disgruntled, angry, burnt out teacher. They needed who I used to be. I'm happy to say that my new students are getting to know the old me, the happy me, the true "teacher"  me. 

 Quitting mid-year? 

So worth it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Remembering Something Strange That Happened My First Year Teaching...

Everyone has memories from the first year of teaching, but even today, I can't believe this really happened!

Right after I graduated from college, I got a call from my former English teacher, Ms. Johns. She asked me if I had found a teaching job, because she wanted me to take over her high school English classes while she was going to be out on extended medical leave--for up to 8 months. The county, even though I was going to be considered a long-term substitute, was willing to pay me a teacher's salary. My B.S. degree was in Elementary Education, but Ms. Johns knew that English was a strength of mine. I gladly accepted the job.

When I rolled into Ms. Johns position, it was almost the end of the first grading period. She informed me that students were finishing term papers. Anyone who has ever been a first-year teacher enters with such high hopes for all students. That's why it really bothered me when I discovered that one of my 9th grade students had not even started his term paper. I thought I'd dazzle him with encouragement, but that didn't work. He informed me, "I'm turning 16 in 2 weeks and my mom is going to let me quit school. The way I see it, why should I even bother with this term paper?" I gave him lots of reasons why he should complete his term paper and even more reasons why quitting school was a bad idea. The young man didn't want to listen to anything I had to say.

I had a great relationship with the principal because I knew him from when I had been a student at the school. I felt like that the young man may have needed a male role model, so I expressed my concerns to the principal; he said that if the young man's attitude didn't change, he'd be happy to talk to him.

The next day, I again sat down with the young man, but he refused to pick up a pencil. He said, "Now I have 13 days until I can quit school."

I said, "I am really concerned and I want you to have a bright future. Quitting school is not the answer. I am going to give you until 2:00 p.m. tomorrow (that would be about 15 minutes into the class period) to show me something or else I'm going to require you to talk to the principal. He, too, is concerned about you."

As class started the next day, I reminded the young man that I would be around to check on his progress. At 1:55 p.m., I walked by his desk and pointed to the clock. He sat there with his arms crossed. At 2:00 p.m., I had no other choice but to follow through with what I told him. I wrote a pass for him to go and see the school's principal. As he snatched the pass, he yelled, "F____ you!" and then he slammed the door. My mouth dropped open. I couldn't believe it. I was trying to help him and he had just cursed at me.

I opened the classroom door and walked out into the hallway. The student was between the classroom and the office. I said, "Young man, you were not in trouble until now. You leave me no choice but to write a disciplinary referral." I noticed a few other students in the hallway and they seemed just as shocked by his behavior as I was.

At 2:15 p.m., the bell rang for students to go to the pep rally. I locked the classroom and walked over to the gym to help supervise students at the pep rally. The cheerleaders were getting the crowd pumped: "Rah, rah, Jamma, Jamma...Best team in Alabama..."

On my way out of the gym, my baby brother--a high school football player--came up to me and said, "You don't have to worry about that student anymore."

I said, "What student?"

He said, "The one that cursed you out!"

Horrified, I asked, "Oh, Sam, what did you do?"

He said, "I jerked him up, threw him against the bleachers, and said, 'No one messes with my sister!'"

"Sam, you can't do that! I know you have always protected me, but you can get in big trouble for what you just did."

My brother went on to explain that once the student realized that I was Sam's sister, he promised he would never do anything like that again.

As strange as this may sound, and as much as I do not condone bullying, this story has a happy ending. The young man in my classroom had a lot of respect for my brother, a big high school football star. He came in class the following Monday a changed man. He had written a paper and turned it in to be graded. The young man earned a "C" on that term paper. Best of all, he did not quit school when his birthday came; he graduated high school with his classmates three years later.

Below is a picture of my brother and me today.
--Tonya of 241 teachers

Saturday, January 19, 2013

newsflash - kids lie

This week I dealt with a student who was sellin' stories to me and her mother. It took tears and tough love, but she finally told the truth and is (fingers crossed) back on track.

I wouldn't describe myself as a particularly tough teacher. I'm the "nice one" who only yells when she gets "super mad". If I sent a kid to the office on a referral, the deans would say, "Ms. L wrote you up? You must've done something really bad."

I'm a big believer in teaching from the heart, but I learned along the way that compassion comes in many forms. I started thinking about when I learned that lesson . . .

When I was a brand new teacher, I was on a team with a very seasoned teacher. The kids were scared of her and constantly complained that she was "soooooo old." That year, I was just 23, and it was definitely an interesting contrast for the kids to come from her class, half-asleep after a lecture, into mine, where I let them lay on the floor during silent reading.

Even though we had very different teaching styles, I was happy to be teaming with Wilma. She was tough. She was smart. And, she was right. Nine times out of ten, when she made a decision or assessment about one of our kids, it was right.

One of my favorite things to do was go to a parent conference with Wilma. She was in total control. The parents (who were sometimes her former students!!!) listened and agreed. They asked for her advice. They nodded and told their kids, "Now you listen to your teacher."

And me? Well, I just sat and absorbed. I knew I looked like the students and most parents didn't want to hear my two cents. So I would echo her wisdom and sometimes throw in some information about their reading levels.

I'll never forget one conference with the parents of James*. James was always in trouble, and I knew he had his parents fooled. When I called home, they would say, "It's so shocking, he doesn't act that way at home." (Well, duh. He saves it for school!) So, when I got the note that they'd requested a conference, I knew we were in for a treat.

The conference began normally, with just a brief discussion of grades. Then the conversation quickly turned to behavior issues. James started saying, "That's not true!" and "Mom, I didn't do that!"

His mother looked at Wilma and said, "Well, James said he didn't do it. What do you say to that?"

Wilma, without blinking an eye, replied, "Ma'am, your son is lying."

I braced myself for a fight. I feared the worst - a screaming parent and a student who knew they'd just gained total control.

But, his mom didn't move. She just kept looking at Wilma. Finally, (after what felt like hours of tortured silence, but was probably more like ten seconds) she glanced over at James, and then back to Wilma.

"Thank you. I think I needed someone to remind me."

I wish I could tell you that after the conference, his behavior turned around and he made straight A's. But we teachers know those kind of tales are few and far between. I can tell you, however, that I was forever changed that day.

Coddling a parent can be just as damaging as coddling a child. Hard as it can be sometimes, if a parent needs to hear bad news, we, as teachers, should tell them. Next week when I check back up on my story-selling student, I will think of Wilma, and the tough love she showed us all.

Lindsay of 241 teachers

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

National Popcorn Day! Who knew?

A fun approach to seasonal lessons is finding obscure holidays! Everyone knows about Valentines and St. Patrick's Day ... but did you know that January 19th is National Popcorn Day?

I don’t think I have ever encountered a student who did not like popcorn. That got me to thinking…why not pop some popcorn and celebrate this special day with students? Check out my latest lesson plan on TpT. Kids will love munching on some delicious popcorn while creating poems about “popcorn”. Choose one of the activities or choose them all! You can even divide your students into groups and have each group write a different poem and then share with the class. This popcorn activity is sure to bring joy to your students’ sweet faces!

Have a poppin’ good time!

Tonya of 241

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Go Bubba!

I am so proud to say that I know this young lady, Elizabeth "Bubba" Bain. She is the younger sister to one of my best friends. Bubba's family has a huge heart. I am so amazed and touched by her story. Watch and have tissues ready!
=) Lindsay 241 teachers

Monday, January 14, 2013

'tis the season

Do you take a seasonal approach to learning?

When I was in the "brick and mortar" class room (I now teach virtually for an online school), I really loved doing lessons that tied in with the season and holidays. Now, in my online classroom, I create a contest every month that is tied to a season or cultural event. Depending on the activity, students seem to take it or leave it. Do they love the holiday or the lesson?

Seasonal lessons are currently our best sellers on TpT. Tonya's top seller is her Turkey Glyph and my best seller is my Chinese New Year Glyph.
Tonya was my mentor during my first year and when I first began with TpT, she encouraged me to share my seasonal lesson plans. Just one of the many things I love about Tonya - that she scares her wonderful teaching secrets! I've been seeing threads on the forums that some people love this, and some people don't. What are your thoughts? Do you have a seasonal best seller? Tell us about it!

Lindsay of the 241 teachers